Virginia and Maryland Hikes
- Tuesday, October 9, 2011, at Prince William Forest Park with the Marshall’s. We were able to do a car shuttle, which allowed us to walk further along the South Ridge Trail. We went by the 2 lakes in the park, stopping for lunch at the first one. I’ve hiked a lot in this park before, but never knew that there were lakes here. Photos on Flickr.
- Monday, January 17, 2011, Martin Luther King Day, Buck Hollow/Buck Ridge Loop
- Saturday, January 8, 2011, hike at Sky Meadows State Park
- Saturday, January 1, 2011, Hightop Mountain hike in Shenandoah National Park with Joe and Suzanne
- Saturday, December 4, 2010, we did a 5-mile “hike” (more like a walk) along the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail.
- Saturday, November 19, 2010, we did an 8-mile circuit hike in Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Maryland.
Old Favorites in Shenandoah National Park
Little Devil’s Stairs
This is a nice climb up a steep, rocky canyon paralleling the Keyser Run stream. There are lots of stream crossings, scrambles over rocks and nice views of the valley below. We made a 7.5-mile circuit by starting at the parking lot at the bottom and then climbing about 2 miles up the canyon to the Keyser Run Fire Road. Instead of coming directly back down the Fire Road we took a detour up to Skyline Drive and walked to the Mount Marshall Overlook to enjoy the spectacular view. That was one mile from where the Little Devil Stairs Trail intersected the Keyser Run Fire Road. So then we backtracked the one mile and continued the trip down, about 3.5 miles back to the parking lot.
First time: 09/13/2003 I was determined to do a hike this Saturday, in spite of the rainy mid-September weather. It was so foggy and overcast in the mountains that I could see no views whatsoever. But it was a good hike, quite a workout. Started on Old Rag Fire Road off of Skyline Drive. 2.4 miles on the fire road and then 2.4 miles up and over Robertson Mountain. Then 2 miles up the Corbin Hollow Trail to make a circuit back to the fire road.
Second time: 09/11/2004 A sunny day and the views were great. Stopped at the Apple Butter Festival at Skyland.
South River Falls Trail
This was a 10-mile circuit hike that we took with the Marshall’s. The hike started at the South River Falls Picnic Area, just north of Milepost 63 on Skyline Drive. The first 3.5 miles was following the AT north to a side trail leading to Pocosin Cabin, where we ate lunch. We then followed the Pocosin Fire Road for a mile to the Pocosin Trail where we looked at the ruins of the Upper Pocosin Mission. A little over a mile on the Pocosin Trail is the intersection with the South River Fire Road. Just before that intersection we took a short detour to look at the South River cemetery. In a couple of miles a turn leads to the South River Falls Trail, from which another half mile of walking brings you to the base of the 70 foot drop that is South River Falls. From there it is another 2 miles to hike up the South River Falls Trail back to the picnic grounds.
Hazel River/White Rocks Trail
Parking on SR 600 we hiked 1.8 miles up the Hazel River Trail to the White Rocks Trail. The White Rocks Trail has some steep climbing but is well worth it for the views. It also has a 0.2 spur trail leading down to a cave and waterfall on the Hazel River. After 2.4 miles on this trail, we reached the intersection with the Hazel Mountain Trail. Hiking 1.3 miles on the Hazel Mountain Trail brought us back to the Hazel River Trail, from where it was another 3.4 miles back to SR 600, making a total of 9 miles.
Jeremy’s Run/Knob Mountain
After spring and early summer 2003 that was devoted to training for RAGBRAI, then the bike ride itself and then our trip out West, this August 16 hike was the first we had done in home territory in a long time. The day was hazy so the views were not what they might have been. But considering it was a hot summer day and we had been having plenty of rain it was a good pick because of all the stream crossings. We went down the Knob Mountain Trail (which also has a lot of uphill) and then back up to Skyline Drive on the Jeremy’s Run Trail, making a 13-mile circuit. Hike is described as Hike #6 in the book “Circuit Hikes in SNP.” An extra treat was seeing a mother bear with twin cubs only about 100 feet away from us on the trail.
Buck Hollow/Buck Ridge
This was the first hike of 2003 and I was determined to do a hike, regardless of the fact that the weather forecast didn’t look good. January had so much cold, nasty weather that the first day of February seemed like the perfect time to do something besides huddle in the house.
The hike was meant to be one that started on Skyline Drive, but when I got up to the Panorama entrance I had to turn around. Skyline Drive was closed due to snow and ice. The rain that we had here the previous day was an ice storm up there. The trees were covered in ice and the mountain peaks shrouded in fog. The trailhead for Buck Hollow and Buck Ridge trails is on Hwy. 211 just inside the park boundary. Since I had to turn around and go back on 211 it seemed like a good substitute hike.
I hiked up the 3 miles of the Buck Hollow Trail to where it ends on Skyline Drive at the Meadow Spring Trail Parking Area (milepost 34). There is an interesting sign there about the effect of fires in the park, one of which, in the summer of 2000, was the biggest fire in the park’s history. A lot of the area through which the trail passes had been burned in that fire.
Because Skyline Drive was closed I enjoyed some time sitting on the rock wall next to the road knowing that there would be no cars coming by. The trees were covered in ice and everything was fogged in, adding to the stillness.
Heading back down I took the Hazel Mountain Trail to the turnoff for the Buck Ridge Trail, which I hiked for the return trip. For a short time on the return trail the sun came out and I was showered with ice melting from off the tree tops. There were some nice views looking out over the valley towards Hazel Mountain. The warmth of the sun didn’t last for long as more clouds moved in and the wind began to blow. It had been a long uphill on the ascent of the Buck Hollow Trail, but I was glad I had taken that way up. The Buck Ridge Trail is incredibly steep and with the glaze of ice on the ground it wasn’t easy to keep from slipping. And then the last obstacle was the same two stream crossings that I had made on the way up. They were interesting because of the ice bridges that spanned the streams. They didn’t look too safe, at first, with the open water swiftly flowing under and around, but proved to be thick enough to walk across. Three miles up the Buck Hollow Trail and 3 miles back down the Buck Ridge Trail made a total of 6 very enjoyable miles for this hike.
Thornton River/Piney Branch
Piney Branch and North Fork are two forks of the Thornton River, separated by Fork Mountain, just east of Sperryville. Driving from Warrenton, turn right off Rt. 211 onto Rt. 612 ( little past Washington VA). Rte 612 is joined on the left by Rt. 600 (from Sperryville) but the two routes then diverge: Rt. 600 continuing straight to its end at the Piney Branch Trail terminus, and Rt. 612 turning left and then continuing to its end at the Thornton River Trail terminus. Only the latter point has a small parking area (for two cars), so access is limited by that factor. Ask for permission from local residents for any other parking along the road. Access to the Piney Branch Trail terminus is nearly completely blocked by private land-owners, with no convenient space for parking! Hikers who want to exit from the Piney Branch trail will need to consider walking ca. one-half mile over the ridge of Fork Mountain on Rt. 653 which connects the two forks of Rts.600 & 612.
The trail going along the right side of the Thornton River is an easy walk with minimal elevation gain; this is a small, quiet valley popular with fisherman. At about 1.5 mi., we turned right onto the crossing Hull School Trail. [Note: continuing on the Thornton River Trail or turning left on the Hull School Trail leads upward to Skyline Drive.] Heading north on the Hull School Trail after two uphill sections (ca. .8 mi.), we reached the junction with Fork Mountain Trail (on the left). This trail climbs through pine and hardwoods along Piney Ridge for approx. 1.2 mi. (7-800 ft. elevation change) where it joins the Piney Ridge Trail. Near this juncture, but a short way up The Piney Ridge Trail to the left, there are the remains of the Dwyer cemetery. We continued another half-mile up the Piney Ridge Trail to a rocky overlook for lunch. Since the trees were not leafed out, there was an excellent view north, with Pignut Mountain nearby and Hogback Mountain, South & North Marshall, and The Peak in the distance. [Another mile along the Piney Ridge Trail links to the Appalachian Trail at the locked PATC Range View Cabin.] We retreated down the Piney Ridge Trail, (staying on it by turning left at the previous junction of the Fork Mountain Trail), which makes a steep one mile descent to Piney Branch. From here we turned right, hiking out along Piney Branch with stops for snoozing in the sun and watching deer. The trail makes a few crossings of the stream, which called for nimble rock hopping, (or would be more difficult with higher water), ca. 2 mi. to the terminus at Rt.600.
For a future hike, we plan to hike further up Piney Branch Trail which ascends gradually to a connecting link near the head of Little Devils Stairs, and could be made as a nice loop utilizing the afore-mentioned Hull School Trail (heading south).
Pine Hill Gap Trail
This was a circuit hike that we made up as we went along because we weren’t starting the hike where we had set off to start. But we made a lot of wonderful discoveries of new trails to explore, as well as a possibility for a future overnighter. Starting at the Pine Hill Gap trailhead on 681, we hiked to the Hazel Mountain Trail, then to the Catlett Mountain Trail, the Catlett Spur Trail, and back down the Broad Hollow Trail, about 8.5 miles total.
Thompson Wildlife Management Area
This was a fairly short hike, but had a lot of variety in the surrounding terrain. We started at the first parking area after the Tricounty Forest Fire Lookout Tower and descended towards Lake Thompson through a nice wooded area. There were a lot of wildflowers, including some Dutchman’s britches and adder’s tongue. Close to the lake, where numerous fishermen were posted along the shore, the trail opened up into a grassy meadow. After climbing again through the woods it went along a fenceline across which was a pastoral scene of farms and houses nestled in the green foothills. The last mile or so of the hike was along the Appalachian
Hazel Mountain Trail
The Hazel Mountain Trail begins at the Meadow Spring parking area on the left at Mile 33.5 on Skyline Drive. Just to the right of the parking area, the Hazel Mountain Trail follows an old road (the Buck Hollow Trail turns off to the left to pass below the parking area and head north); stay straight on the old road past a chain gate. The water from Meadow Spring runs under the trail in a culvert.
Descending along the road, you’ll reach a junction at 0.5 mile (the Buck Ridge Trail, hike 23, is to the left); bear to the right. As you continue to descend, the footing becomes rocky on the old roadway. At 0.7 mile the road curves left and, at 1.1 miles, curves back right. At 1.4 miles, you’ll see a stream off to the right, a tributary of the Hazel River. At 1.5 miles, rockhop a side stream of this tributary and pass a hemlock woods along the creek. You reach a junction at 1.6 miles with the White Rocks Trail to the left (the Hazel Mountain Trail, the return route for this loop hike, continues straight); turn left onto the White Rocks Trail.
Ascend another old roadway that is the Old Hazel Road, crossing a small stream and reaching a dry ridge of oak and laurel. The trail gradually bears right and begins a descent along the ridgeline. Across the valley of the Hazel River, you’ll see Hazel Mountain off to the right. At 2.4 miles, there’s a path to the right that hikers have made looking for the waterfall, but this is not the trail to the falls. Continue descending on the old roadway. At 2.5 miles you’ll reach a more worn path to the right that gives access to the waterfall; when I was last there, a tree snag with a trail blaze stood at the junction.
Although the walk to this junction has been easy, the path down to the waterfall is difficult. You need to be agile to make the steep descent to the Hazel River and then to make your way upstream to the 8-foot falls, which is worth the 0.2-mile scramble. At the falls, an overhang to the right shelters a crevice opening a few feet into the rock.
Back on the main trail, continue down the old road. You’ll pass exposed boulders and dip through a saddle to then make an ascent of the first of three knolls along the ridge. At 2.8 miles, top the first knoll and then descend the other side. Hazel Mountain stands mightily to the right, and you’ll hear the Hazel River below. Through another saddle and up the second knoll, watch for large patches of trailing arbutus. You’ll have nice views left across the valley to Buck Ridge.
The trail skirts to the left of the peak of the second knoll, which is topped by the White Rocks. You’ll only catch a glimpse of the rocks from the trail. But keep going, and on the other side of the knoll at 3.0 miles, just before the trail begins the descent into the next saddle, a path to the right takes you up into the giant exposed boulders.
The White Rocks Trail continues down and then over a third knoll before turning right to descend off the ridge. The trail then fords the Hazel River and crosses a tributary to connect with the Hazel River Trail at 3.9 miles (to the left, the Hazel River Trail exits the park in 1.2 miles to connect with VA 600); turn right up the Hazel River Trail.
Reconnect with the Hazel Mountain Trail at 5.5 miles (to the left, the Hazel Mountain Trail gives access to several backcountry trails and ends at a junction with the Pine Hill Gap Trail in another 2.9 miles); turn right. Ford Runyon Run, pass the Catlett Spur Trail to the left, and cross the Hazel River on a bridge to close the loop at the beginning of the White Rocks Trail at 6.8 miles; stay straight. It’s then another 1.6 miles back to Meadow Spring parking, at 8.4 miles.
White Oak Canyon
We started at the Whiteoak Canyon parking area on Route 600 and went up the Cedar Run Trail. It was a steep climb, but beautiful waterfalls and wildflowers along the way. Upon reaching the ridge, we took the horse trail to the Whiteoak Fire Road, which was also a steep climb to the White Oak Canyon trail. The rest of the way was downhill past the spectacular falls and more wildflowers. Total hike was a little over 8 miles.
Big Devil Stairs
At Milepost 17.6 on Skyline Drive, pull into the parking area on the left at Gravel Springs Gap. The old road here was once the Browntown-Harris Hollow Road that crossed the mountain. (On the right side of Skyline Drive, this old road is now the Browntown Trail, which descends the mountain to emerge from the park and connect with VA 631; the access there is not readily visible.) The AT from the north joins this road just off Skyline Drive then crosses the drive to head south on the left side of Skyline Drive. From the parking area, take the AT into the woods, headed south; the trail parallels the old road as it leads down to the Gravel Springs Hut.
Along the AT in 0.1 mile, there is a junction (the AT continues straight); turn left onto the Bluff Trail to descend to another junction, at 0.3 mile, with the old road you have been paralleling (to the right lies the Gravel Springs Hut, where long-distance hikers may camp. The spring is at the junction with the road; straight ahead, the old Browntown-Harris Hollow Road goes on down the mountain but has become overgrown beyond the hut); turn left on the road, and then turn right to continue on the Bluff Trail.
At 0.4 mile is another junction (the Harris Hollow Trail to the left leads up to the old road for access back to Skyline Drive); stay straight and curve right for the short distance that the Harris Hollow Trail and the Bluff Trail coincide.
At 0.5 mile is yet another junction (the Harris Hollow Trail continues straight to rejoin the old roadway headed east down the mountain, where it emerges from the park on VA 622); stay left on the Bluff Trail.
Pass along the slope of South Marshall. The trail passes through rock outcrops and crosses small flows of water. At 1.0 mile, pass through an open area with displays of blue asters in late summer and early fall. The trail drops off to the right and then ascends back to the level at 1.6 miles.
At 1.7 miles, step over a crevice with a stream that is the head of Big Devils Stairs, and continue on to a junction at 1.8 miles (the Bluff Trail continues on across the flank of North Marshall to connect with the Mount Marshall Trail in another 2.1 miles); turn right on the Big Devils Stairs Trail.
The trail winds down the mountain through stands of laurel out to a bare rock view on the east edge of the canyon at 2.4 miles. The trail skirts the edge of the canyon and then turns away from the edge into the woods, steeply descending the rocky slope by switchbacks to the mouth of the canyon at 3.4 miles. Rockhop the stream, which is a tributary of the Rush River; on the other side, the trail continues downstream a few paces to the park boundary and private land, which you may not cross; from here, return up the mountain the way you came along the Big Devils Stairs Trail.
(If it is the dry season and the water in the stream is low, you may follow the streambed back up the canyon. This alternative route is only for experienced hikers and explorers; do not attempt this return up the canyon if you do not have experience in off-trail hiking. Also be aware that you may run into stinging nettle, a plant that will sting your bare skin. Eventually, you’ll emerge at the head of the canyon to reconnect with the Bluff Trail. Then turn left on the Bluff Trail to retrace your steps back to Gravel Springs Gap.)